Organizers of the year-old Curl Berkshires says interest in the 600-year-old sport tends to peak during the Winter Olympics.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — You don't need blades to hit the ice.
"I can't skate, but I can curl," says Gerrit Blauvelt. "It's not a requirement that you have any physical ability. Curlers come as young as 5 or 6, and there are people curling into their 90s.
"If you want to do more competitive levels, there are those opportunities."
For the uninitiated, there is the Curling Club of the Berkshires.
Blauvelt is the vice president of the year-old non-profit, which will offer an open house for would-be curlers on Saturday, Nov. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club.
Blauvelt said the club formed last year when area residents who were regularly traveling to Schenectady, N.Y., and Norfolk, Conn., to find ice decided to join forces. Curl Berkshires competed under its own banners at out-of-state events last winter; this year, it has found a home on Melville Street.
And they found it in time for the winter of 2017-18, when countless Americans once again will be mesmerized by the shuffleboard-like sport that traces its roots to 16th-century Scotland and is a national obsession north of the border.
"In an Olympic year, that's when people really want to see it," Blauvelt said. "Growth for clubs always seems to peak in those years. We wanted to make sure this year, we had the opportunity so people in Berkshire County who wanted to try the sport could do so."
Blauvelt is one of those who was inspired by the Olympics.
"When I was in college, I saw it on TV in 2002," he said, referring to the Salt Lake City games. "I said, 'I want to try this,' and one of my friend's girlfriends was there, and this was a person who was from Norfolk, Conn. We were going to school in Gettysburg, Pa., and she drove an hour a week to go to a curling club in Potomac, Md."
Eight years later, another Olympiad moved Blauvelt to return to the sport.
"I moved to Boston in 2008, and two years later I was watching the games in Vancouver, and my wife said, 'Let's get you involved,' " he said. "There was a club starting in Bridgewater, Mass., and I started curling there."
A few years ago, Blauvelt moved to the Berkshires.
"It's a great community, but there hasn't been curling out here," he said. "I love the Berkshires and would love to curl here, and I was interested in getting it started out here."
Curl Berkshires hopes to attract curlers of all ages through events like Saturday's open house and, perhaps, a clinic for youngsters during the winter school vacation in December.
One of the advantages is that the cost is minimal. Curl Berkshires charges a small fee to help cover the cost of ice time, but the club provides the stones, the brooms (used to sweep the ice to increase or decrease friction and thus affect the speed of the stone) and even "sliders" for curlers to wear on their feet.
More serious participants can invest in special shoes, and those cost anywhere from $75 to $200 for the high end models but last for years.
"You can get everything together for less than $300 for a decent setup [including your own broom] to be competitive for a number of years," Blauvelt said.
The Boys & Girls Club is not a dedicated curling facility like the one at the Schenectady (N.Y.) Curling Club, but Curl Berkshires is grateful to the support of the Boys & Girls Club. Curl Berkshires plans to host events there and at the Norfolk and Schenectady facilities.
"There are two kinds of curling: arena curling and dedicated facilities," Blauvelt said. "At a dedicated facility, they spend more time to develop the ice to make it as good as they can to just use it for curling.
"With arena, you get the ice, and you have 30 minutes to an hour to get ready and then have the event and take down the curling stuff."
On Saturday, Curl Berkshires held a season-opening members-only event that drew a couple dozen competitors.
Before they could get going, they had to prep the ice. First, they sprayed it with water to form little droplets, or pebbles, of ice. Then, they dragged stones across the surface using a sled-like contraption to scrape down the pebbles, eliminating high spots and creating the desired surface. Finally, Blauvelt and friends used a marker to draw the "house," the circle into into which teams slide stones to score points.
"If you have help from the rink — and the Boys & Girls Club has been very receptive — there are things they can do like having the Zamboni driver drive differently," Blauvelt said. "If you have receptive rinks, the quality of arena curling has gone up in the last 10 or 20 years.
"We can talk to other arena clubs and get ideas about what their best practices are. But we also put the Boys & Girls Club in contact with other places that do curling."
Learn more about Curling Club of the Berkshires or to register for Saturday's open house at the Boys & Girls Club, visit www.curlberkshires.org.
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